In 2009 a retired U.S. State Department official, Walter Kendall Myers, 73, who is a grandson of Alexander Graham Bell, and his wife, Gwendolyn, 72, pled guilty to spying for Cuba for 30 years. Their crime entailed the transmission of U.S. “national defense” secrets to Cuba. As part of a plea bargain, he received a life sentence and she received a prison sentence of 81 months.
At their sentencing, the presiding judge, U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton, berated the Myerses for what they had done. Walton said to them, “If someone despises the American government to the extent that appears to be the case, you can pack your bags and leave and it doesn’t seem to me you continue to bear the benefits this country manages to provide and seek to undermine it.”
What had motivated the Myerses to spy for Cuba? It wasn’t money because they didn’t get paid for what they did. They told the judge that long ago, they embraced the philosophy of communism and socialism and the principles of the Cuban revolution. They said,
We did not act out of anger toward the United States or from any thought of anti-Americanism. We did not intend to hurt any individual American. Our only objective was to help the Cuban people defend their revolution. We only hoped to forestall conflict.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton ordered a comprehensive damage assessment to determine how U.S. national security may have been harmed by the Myerses’ action.
There are several fascinating aspects to this case, all of which shed light on U.S. foreign policy under the national-security state for the past 70 years. For one thing, the judge never seemed to question or challenge the U.S. government’s conduct towards Cuba since the 1959 Cuban revolution. It’s as if that thought just never even entered his mind. He seemed to have just automatically concluded that since the Myerses had delivered classified “national defense” secrets to Cuba, that was the end of the matter. For the judge, that meant that the Myerses obviously hated the U.S. government and that they should have just moved to Cuba instead of undermining America.
Actually, however, the matter is more much complex than that, and if Walton had done his job properly as a judge, he would have taken into account U.S. foreign policy towards Cuba in determining whether to accept the length of the Myerses prison sentences under the plea bargain.
What was the specific information that the Myerses delivered to Cuba? Unfortunately, under principles of “national security,” the U.S. government won’t disclose that information to the American people, which seems odd, given that Cuban officials already have the information. But whatever the information was, it couldn’t have had anything to do with “national defense” simply because Cuba has never taken any aggressive actions against the United States. Instead, the information that the Myerses transmitted to Cuba had to be in the nature of “national offense” or “national aggression” because for the past 50 years it has always been the U.S. government that has attacked Cuba, not the other way around.
What has been the nature of the U.S. government’s program of aggression against Cuba for the past half century? Assassination, terrorism, sabotage, military invasion, and, of course, the continued maintenance of a brutal embargo, which, in combination with Cuba’s socialist economic system, has squeezed the lifeblood out of the Cuban people for more than 50 years.
Even the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, which brought the United States and the Soviet Union to the brink of nuclear war, was brought about not by an act of aggression by Cuba and the Soviet Union, as Americans are taught from the first grade on up. Instead, the truth is that it was the U.S. national-security state, and specifically its determination to invade Cuba, that precipitated the crisis. Here’s what really happened.
After the Bay of Pigs disaster, the Pentagon and the CIA became more determined than ever to get rid of Fidel Castro and replace him with a pro-U.S. stooge. The Joint Chiefs of Staff unanimously presented a plan to invade Cuba to John Kennedy. The plan was called Operation Northwoods. It is one of the most shocking proposals in the history of the U.S. national-security state.
Operation Northwoods called for U.S. officials to initiate terrorist attacks on U.S. soil, on refugee boats leaving Cuba, and on the U.S. military facility at Guantánamo Bay. The plan also called for plane hijackings. Under the plan, the terrorists would seem to be Cuban agents. In actuality, however, they would be U.S. personnel falsely portraying themselves as Cuban agents.
Under Operation Northwoods, real people were to be killed, including Americans. The president, who, of course, would be in on the scheme, would go on national television, look into the camera, and inform the American people that Cuba had attacked the United States. In other words, he would lie to Americans and to the world. He would then announce that as a matter of national security, he was ordering a military invasion of Cuba.
One of the most fascinating aspects of Operation Northwoods was the belief among the Joint Chiefs of Staff that such a wide-ranging conspiracy, which obviously would involve many personnel in both the military and CIA, could and would be kept secret from the American people and the people of the world — and for a very long time. As it was, no one who was privy to the plan, including the entire Joint Chiefs of Staff, ever talked. The U.S. government succeeded in keeping the proposal itself secret for more than 30 years, until the JFK Records Act of 1992, which was enacted in the wake of Oliver Stone’s movie JFK, caused the plan to be disclosed to the public.
Another fascinating aspect of Operation Northwoods was the willingness of the Pentagon to sacrifice the lives of innocent people, including American citizens, as part of fake terrorist attacks to justify an invasion of Cuba. The idea, which has always been a guiding principle for the national-security state, especially within both the military and the CIA, was that the end justified the means.
To his credit, Kennedy rejected Operation Northwoods. But that didn’t dissuade the Pentagon and the CIA from continuing to support an invasion of Cuba. As it turned out, the chatter about invading Cuba reached both Cuba and the Soviet Union.
While Castro’s forces could defeat a small force of Cuban exiles, as it did at the Bay of Pigs, resisting a full-fledged military invasion of Cuba was another thing altogether. Castro knew that he didn’t stand a chance. If the U.S. military invaded the island, his forces would be easily defeated and he would be ousted or, more likely, killed in the operation.
The missile crisis
That’s what motivated Castro to approach the Soviet Union about installing nuclear missiles in Cuba, not as a way to initiate a nuclear war on the United States but instead as a way to deter a U.S. invasion of Cuba, an invasion that the military and the CIA were discussing, planning, and proposing from the time of the Bay of Pigs disaster in 1961 to the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962.
In the end, Castro’s strategy succeeded. While it appeared that Kennedy had caused the Soviets to back down and withdraw their nuclear missiles from Cuba, the price for doing that was twofold: one, Kennedy promised that the United States would not invade Cuba, a promise that earned him the deep enmity of the Pentagon, the CIA, and Cuban exiles; and, two, Kennedy promised to remove nuclear missiles aimed at the Soviet Union that were installed in Turkey, which bordered the Soviet Union.
Throughout the Cuban Missile Crisis, the military and the CIA were exhorting Kennedy to bomb and invade Cuba. In their minds, the missile crisis was proof positive that the president should have accepted their proposals for invading Cuba in the months preceding the crisis. Moreover, the military and the CIA viewed the missile crisis as an opportunity — the perfect excuse to effect regime change in Cuba through force. The CIA even sent sabotage teams into Cuba in preparation for the invasion without the knowledge or approval of the president. The military, for its part, raised the nuclear-alert level to the second-highest possible level and let the Soviets know about it, again without the consent of the president.
Fortunately, Kennedy and the Soviet premier, Nikita Khrushchev, were able to extricate themselves from the crisis. As Soviet records later documented, nuclear missiles had already been installed and made operational, with authority given to commanders in Cuba to fire them in the event of a U.S. invasion of the island. If Kennedy had done what the Pentagon and the CIA wanted him to do — bomb and invade Cuba — there is no doubt that full nuclear war would have been the result.
That’s how close the U.S. national-security state brought America and the Soviet Union to a nuclear holocaust.
In any event, the classified information that the Myerses were delivering to Cuba during the past 30 years couldn’t have had anything to do with “defense,” as Secretary of State Clinton intimated. It had to do with the acts of aggression that the U.S. government was committing against a sovereign and independent regime that has never engaged in any acts of aggression against the United States.
That’s what Americans so easily forget — that in the 50 years of “conflict” between Cuba and the United States, it has always been the U.S. government that has been the aggressor, and it has always been Cuba that has had to defend itself from the U.S. government’s aggression.
Let’s keep in mind some important facts here: Cuba has never attacked the United States. Cuba has never invaded the United States. It has never engaged in terrorist attacks or acts of sabotage either in the United States or against U.S. installations overseas, not even at the U.S. military installation at Guantánamo Bay. It has never attempted to assassinate U.S. officials or anyone else on American soil, either in partnership with the Mafia or anyone else. It has never implemented an economic embargo against the United States. It has never tried to effect regime change in the United States.
Instead, it has been the U.S. government that has done all those things to Cuba. It has invaded the island. It has engaged in terrorist attacks and acts of sabotage in Cuba. It has repeatedly tried to assassinate Fidel Castro and other Cuban officials, even going so far as to enter into an assassination partnership with the Mafia to do so. It has maintained a brutal economic embargo against Cuba for more than half a century. And it has consistently maintained a policy of regime change on the island, with the intent of ousting Castro from power and replacing him with a pro-U.S. dictator.
It should be noted as well that Congress has never declared war on Cuba, which is the constitutionally required prerequisite to the president’s waging of war against other nations.
That’s what Judge Walton failed to take into account at the Myerses’ sentencing hearing — that the classified information that the Myerses delivered to Cuba during the past 30 years couldn’t have had anything to do with “national defense” because the United States never has had to defend itself from any acts of aggression from Cuba. The information that the Myerses transmitted to Cuba had to have pertained, instead, to the U.S. government’s acts of aggression toward Cuba, that is, to plans relating to assassination, invasion, terrorism, sabotage, or embargo.
How Americans should think
That’s why the Myerses said that they hadn’t acted out of anger towards the United States or from any thought of anti-Americanism. In their minds, they were simply giving information to Cuba to enable it to defend itself from U.S. aggression. In their minds, the U.S. government should simply have left Cuba alone.
But, you see, for Judge Walton and for officials in the U.S. national-security state, American citizens are never supposed to think like that. Under the principles of the national-security state, Americans are not supposed to make judgments on right and wrong when it comes to the actions of their government. They’re supposed to defer to the authority of their national-security state officials and to support them unconditionally, without question or challenge.
After all, the job of the national-security state is to keep Americans safe. U.S. officials are the guardians of national security. They are the ultimate judges both of what “national security” means and of what must be done to protect it. If they say that it’s necessary to invade a sovereign and independent country, to assassinate its officials, to
enter into an assassination partnership with organized crime, to engage in terrorism and sabotage within the country, and to squeeze the lifeblood out of foreign citizens with an embargo, then that’s just the way it is.
All Americans are expected to get on board. And whoever questions or challenges what the government is doing to protect their “national security” is considered suspect or, even worse, a bad person, or, worst of all, an enemy of the state or a “terrorist sympathizer” — a person who obviously hates his government and his country, especially given that under the principles of the national-security state, government and country are conflated into one entity.
The mistake the Myerses made was in delivering the information to Cuba, which placed them in violation of U.S. laws against spying and treason. If they had instead delivered the information to the New York Times, it would have made for an entirely different situation, similar to that of Daniel Ellsberg, the Pentagon official who released the Pentagon Papers to the Times during the Vietnam War, or to that of Bradley Manning, the U.S. soldier who is accused of having delivered classified information disclosing embarrassing matters relating to U.S. foreign policy to WikiLeaks.
Yes, the government would have nonetheless indicted and prosecuted the Myerses as it did Ellsberg and is doing to Manning. Moreover, Judge Walton would undoubtedly have still berated them if they had been convicted. But at least the information would have reached the American people, which might have caused more Americans to exercise some independence of thought and personal conscience, which in turn might have brought a change in U.S. foreign policy towards Cuba.
Another example of this phenomenon is the case of the Cuban Five. That case involves five agents of the Cuban government who were arrested by federal officials in the United States, prosecuted for spying, convicted, and sentenced to long prison terms by a federal court in Florida. Their crime? They came to the United States with the aim of ferreting out terrorist plots against Cuba.
For that, those five Cuban agents were considered bad people by U.S. officials — criminals! Imagine the audacity of those five men in trying to protect their country from terrorism. Don’t they know by now that Cuba is not supposed to defend itself against such things?
Consider Cubana Flight 455, which took off from Venezuela on October 6, 1976, and was returning to Cuba. It was downed by a terrorist bomb that had been planted on the plane. All 78 people on board were killed, including all 24 members of the 1975 Cuban fencing team, which had just won gold medals in Latin American competitions.
The prime suspect in the bombing was a man named Luis Posada Carriles, an agent of the CIA. Was Posada operating on behalf of the CIA when he supposedly orchestrated the attack? It’s impossible to know. We do know that he and the CIA claimed that he was no longer working for the CIA during that time. But the problem is that they would say that anyway, so there really is no way to know for sure. What we do know is that the U.S. government has steadfastly harbored Posada by refusing to honor an extradition request from Venezuela, notwithstanding an extradition treaty between the two countries. We also know that Congress has steadfastly refused to conduct a formal investigation into whether the CIA was behind the attack.
Let’s suppose that the CIA was behind the terrorist attack on Cubana Flight 455 and that the Myerses had discovered the plot when it was being planned. If they had delivered such information to Cuba, there is no doubt that they would have been treated in the same way they were treated for transmitting the “national defense” information that they actually transmitted to Cuba. Under America’s national-security state, any citizen, either inside or outside the government, who would disclose such information to a nation being targeted by the CIA is obviously a hater of the U.S. government and anti-American.
What has been the justification for the U.S. government’s actions towards Cuba? The justifications have been twofold: Fidel Castro’s refusal to submit to the control of the U.S. government and the fact that Castro was a communist who turned Cuba into a communist state.
Those two concepts — U.S. imperialism and the U.S. national-security state’s excessive and unreasonable fear of communism — have been driving principles of U.S. foreign policy towards Cuba and the rest of the world through much of the 20th and 21st centuries. They have also wreaked untold damage on our nation, our values, our economic well-being, and our freedom.